Li Li talks with the press after winninghis title.

Beijing student Li-Li won his title during the World Mahjong Championship 2007 in Chengdu, China. The final of the WMC was a great party for the student of Tsinghua university in Beijing. Mobbed by his friends and other mahjong players, he shook hands with everybody who was standing near to him, and many players had his picture taken, preferably with themselves standing next to the new world champion. Yet, the final of ‘Chengdu 2007’ was a strange one. Not all of his competitors agreed with the course of events. Two years later, on the eve of the OEMC 2009 in Austria, Mahjong News reconstructs what happened.

CHENGDU - After seven ju (sessions), Minuri Imaeda from Japan was number one in the general classification of the World Mahjong Championship in E’mei Shan. The best sixteen players of the tournament were allowed to play in the eighth and final ju, and they could take their table points and mini-points with them.

Amongst the happy sixteen players were ten Chinese:
Zhang Bo,
Song Panjing,
Wang Yanhuang,
Huang Shufu,
Gao Jun,
Jiao Linghua,
Zhang Bingcheng,
Ni Haiting,
Zhang Zhangfei, and
Li Li.

There were five Japanese:
Masato Chiba,
Yuri Teduka,
Yoshinori Kato,
Kazutoshi Iwasawa, and
Minuri Imaeda.
And, surprisingly, one player from the Netherlands, Désirée Heemskerk. Although a strong player, Désirée had had a disappointing result at the second European Championship in 2007 in Copenhagen, where she became 127th, out of 136 competitors.
The Danes looked the best candidates for the final of the WMC, but their European champion, Martin Wedel Jacobsen, reached only to the 27th place in E’mei Shan. After Ms. Heemskerk and French Laurent Mahé - he ended on 17th position - Martin was the first European player, though.

Tight fight

Before the gong-stroke which started the last ju, the ranking at the top in the general classification was as follows:

Name TP MP
1. Minuri Imaeda  29  1128 
2. Zhang Bingcheng  28  1383 
3. Li Li  28  1155 
4. Jiao Linghua  26  1178 
Counting the scores at Table 1, while Minuri Imaeda stands.

At the first table in the final, it was a tight fight between the numbers one to four: one Japanese and three Chinese. All players at this table had a chance to be the next world champion. To be sure of his title, Imaeda-san had to win. If he became second (and thus would get 2 table points), either Zhang Bingcheng or Li Li could pass him, if they would win that table (4 table points). 

Li Li seemed to be the best player, but his Japanese opponent did not give up easily. The public - mostly the eliminated participants to the WMC - watched in silence. The jury had informed the public that onlookers were welcome, but that they were not allowed to speak loudly and they were also asked not to use flash when taking pictures. But, of course, the bystanders could see, more or less, the hands and the moves of the sixteen players. Close to the ‘first table’, there were lots of Chinese students.

Two hours

Just as the previous sessions, the final ju lasted for two hours. After two rounds (East and South), Li Li and the two other Chinese players of Table One stood up and walked away for a sanitary stop. Immediately Li Li was surrounded by Chinese. There was a lot of talking. Did they give him information about the tactics of his opponents?
Minuri Imaeda was not too happy with the situation. The Japanese also stood up, he raised his arms and shook his head. Obviously he did not agree. He did not only look surprised, he also called a judge, although no interpreter showed up. American student Benjamin Boas, who participated in the WMC and watched the final, remembers this quite well. Ben, who speaks Japanese, since he studies Japanese mahjong culture in Kyoto, claims that this is corroborated by other Japanese players.
Imaeda-san, about twice Li Li’s age, did not go to the toilet. He waited until, some minutes later, Li Li returned from the bathroom. Li Li won that table, Imaeda became third. At the final gong, it was pandemonium. The Chinese celebrated their new world champion.

Applause for the World Champion.

Had something irregular happened?
Let’s listen to what Li Li commented to Mahjong News when asked about it:
“At the final session, I played pretty well, keeping the best combinations possible, and I had not made any mistakes. I had more than 300 points lead when I took mid-session break: Mahjong Competition Rules allow a five minutes mid-session break.”
According to Li Li, there were 1 hour and 15 minutes left when he checked his time. “So I asked a break to relax a little bit. I didn’t know that the Japanese player was angry until my team mates told me after the game”, says Li Li.
But he also says: “I had not encountered anyone during that break and I was back to my table in less than three minutes.”
Bystanders remember differently. Li Li, on his way to the toilet, was accompanied by a number of Chinese players. Still: not forbidden according to the regulation of MCR.
The officials also claim that no irregularities have taken place. The main referee during the final, French Stéphane Parcollet, does not recall the incident. Some weeks after the WMC, in December 2007, he wrote to Mahjong News: “At the beginning of the final, one of the Chinese players - not at Li Li's table - was feeling bad with his stomach. He asked for a break because he needed to go to the toilet. We asked to other players if they agreed. After a short negotiation, they agreed and we decided to give five minutes bonus to play after the end of normal time. If was the reason why they played a little bit more when the normal time was finished.”
Stéphane only recalls that the Chinese with the ‘bad stomach’ wore a blue shirt, and he says that it was not Li Li. During the final, Li Li wore a sweater - with blue stripes, but definitely not the sky blue shirts many other Chinese wore.

Secretary-general to the World Majiang Organization WMO, Mr. Jiang Xuanqi, tells Mahjong News that 'he has investigated the matter thoroughly'. He also claims that, during the meeting before the actual start of the competition, ‘a five minutes break after two rounds was explained’. Also, he says, during the final, Li Li’s opponents did not object his sanitary stop.
If, as Mr. Jiang says, Li Li’s opponents agreed, there seem to have been a misunderstanding, given the way Imaeda protested. But, eventually, Imaedi-san did not raise a formal objection. And thus ended this impeccable WMC.

Name TP MP
Li Li  256 
Jiao Linghua  -44 
Minuri Imaeda  -76 
Zang Bingshang  -136

Watch the video of the final in Chengdu